Bloodthirsty smugglers, pirates and bootleggers were just some of the grisly characters we met on our recent visit to Smugglers’ Adventure in Hastings, East Sussex. But don’t worry, the real smugglers are long gone. And today, St Clements Caves are one of the most popular family attractions in Hastings!
Find out what we saw on our trip to Hastings’ secret caverns. And even better, discover the history of the ruthless villains who ran rife here in the 17th Century.
We started our visit to Smugglers’ Adventure by climbing the steep steps and narrow alleyways to the top of West Hill.
From here, you can visit the ruins of Hastings Castle and get breathtaking views over the Old Town.
Hastings also has two iconic funicular railways which take visitors up the two hills. However, during our visit the West Hill funicular was out of action.
Once inside Smugglers Adventure, we followed the labyrinth of secret tunnels through St Clement’s Cave. The caves are home to over 70 life-size figures who portray the historic smugglers.
Although we couldn’t see him, Jack was in each room sharing tales of the bootleggers and gangs who once ruled Hastings.
Each section of the caves relates to a different element of the history of smuggling and it was easy to follow the timeline of events.
A brief history of smuggling in Hastings
Hastings has a rich history of smuggling. Its prime position on the south coast of England meant it was an ideal location for importing from abroad.
Unfortunately, the ever-increasing government taxes had resulted in exorbitant prices for everyday goods. Local people could no longer afford the things they needed.
Smuggling seemed the perfect way to evade these heavy charges and provide cheaper goods. The people of Hastings and surrounding towns had no choice but to buy the smugglers’ wares.
What’s more, the purchase of illegal goods was not just prevalent amongst the lower classes. By the 1700s, import duties were so excessive that even the respectable ladies and gentlemen of high society were ordering from the smugglers!
Although the conditions for the bootleggers at sea were extremely dangerous, it was a very profitable business. It was certainly worth the risk to their lives. Furthermore, quick access to profits from London made the trade of the contraband even more lucrative.
In addition to the figures, Smugglers Adventure has child-friendly information boards and commentaries throughout the tour. There was also a mini film.
As we travelled deeper into the caves we learnt more and more about the successful organisation of this illicit trade.
We discovered how the smugglers (tub men) had to carry heavy tubs of contraband from the beach to hide it in the caves. And how vicious gangs, such as The Hawkhurst Gang would get in fights with rival gangs.
We also discovered how the preventative measures from the authorities were so unsuccessful. Maybe, this was because of some of the backhand deals in their favour if they turned a blind eye!
By the end of the tour we all had a good understanding of the nefarious events of yesteryear.
And of the punishments!
Beatings, prison sentences and hangings. And a corpse dangling in a gibbet as a deterrent to others.
As you’d expect, the temperature in the caves was cool. And this combined with the darkness created an eerie atmosphere in the caves.
Moreover, with so much talk of ghosts and hangings, it was easy to imagine the dark side of Hastings’ life.
If you are looking for things to do in Hastings, Smugglers Adventure a good way to spend an hour or more.
Have you been to Smugglers’ Cave in Hastings? Please comment below:-
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